Pinto Horse

  • COAT COLOR: Base coat white; spots black, brown, or red
  • SKIN: Varies
  • MARKINGS: Blazes, snips, stripes, stars; bald or bonnet face

All the horse colors and patterns we know today have existed among horses for thousands of years. They do not seem to be geographically limited. Going back to the earliest cave paintings, one finds horses with both the tobiano and overo patterns well documented in ancient art throughout the Middle East. For this reason, some historians think that pinto patterns first arrived in Europe with particular strains of imported Arabian horses. However, the tobiano color pattern was common among the horses of the Russian steppes, suggesting that this pattern may have come to Europe with various nomadic tribes well before the first importation of Arabians. Historians also believe it quite likely that pinto patterns were present in Europe even during the days of the Roman Empire.

Pintos arrived in the New World with the Spanish. As extensive feral horse herds spread in Mexico and later farther north, both the tobiano and the overo color patterns were evident among the free-ranging horses. The prevalence of colored horses did not diminish over time in wild herds, so it is clear that pinto patterns were not selected against by environmental factors. This was also true in the large herds of the Russian steppes.

This Pinto shows the tobiano pattern, with its colored head, white legs, and white extending over the back.


People often confuse Pintos and Paints. The difference has to do with registry requirements rather than color patterns.

The Pinto Horse Association accepts horses of many breeds that meet the required color qualifications. It does not accept Appaloosas, draft horses, or mules. Among the breeds most often seen at Pinto shows are Miniature Horses, ponies of many breeds, Arabians, Morgans, Saddlebreds, and Tennessee Walking Horses. The PtHA also accepts crossbred horses with qualifying color. Recently, Pinto warmbloods of various breeds have entered the registry.

The American Paint Horse Association, on the other hand, limits registration to horses of documented and registered Paint, Quarter Horse, or Thoroughbred breeding. Many Paints are also registered as stock or hunter-type Pintos.

Throughout history, people of all sorts have been attracted to colorful horses. So many Indians rode these flashy horses that even today, for many people the word pinto brings to mind Indian ponies. Some Indians are said to have believed that specific colors and patterns held magical powers. Many Mexican vaqueros and American cowboys also preferred the fancy colors, so in North America Pintos came to symbolize western horses.

Today Pintos are certainly not limited to the West. They can be found everywhere and in every riding discipline. There are pinto ponies and pinto draft horses.

In Europe, Pintos have faded in and out of fashion several times over the years, though they have always been favored for parades and displays. Today, especially in North America, pinto warmbloods can often be seen in the very conservative world of dressage.

Throughout the ages, pinto horses have been highly valued for their visual appeal.


Pinto coloring is a fascinating study in genetics. Each Pinto is a unique combination of white markings on a solid base. Some of the more common patterns are described below.


Tobiano horses often have a solid-colored head, though the face can have a marking such as a snip, star, or blaze. The legs are white, at least below the hocks and knees. Spots are regular and distinct, often appearing in oval or round patterns that extend down over the neck and the chest. Tobianos usually have dark color on one or both flanks, and the tail may be multicolored.


Overo horses rarely have any white extending across the back between the withers and the tail. Generally, at least one and often all four legs are colored. The head markings often include a bald, or bonnet, face. The body markings tend to be irregular, scattered, and splashy. Usually the tail is one color.


Frame overo is another name used for overo horses, especially those in which color surrounds the white markings making a sort of a frame.


Another overo variation is the splash pattern, which features white spots that look as though the horse was dipped in paint from the ground up. Markings can be extensive or quite minimal.

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